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In Arizona on this week, a playing card — a king of hearts, to be exact — decided an election. As the New York Times reports, a high-card draw overseen by a judge broke the tie between two town council candidates who received the same number of votes in a tiny town.

A tie in an election? We’ve had our own share in San Diego. Over the last three decades, more than half a dozen local races have been deadlocked. Most were decided through an alternative deadlock-breaking method — a coin toss.

State law says this is perfectly fine. Tie votes can be decided by lot or a runoff election.

Election officials figure any game of chance meets the criteria of choosing the winner by lot. “You could play five-card stud. I’ve heard of that happening in Nevada,” said former county Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas.

The most high-profile local tie came in November 2000 when another close race was making the news across the country. Two candidates for the board of the Otay Water District tied with 2,597 votes. The loser of a subsequent coin toss called for a recount, which cost him $3,500.

Not a recount of the coin toss, mind you, but of the vote itself. Candidates declared to be the losers in races can call for recounts.

“After answering 50 calls a day about what was happening in Florida, we had our own recount in San Diego,” Haas recalled.

The result: Same thing. Tie vote. The coin-toss result stood, although the loser did end up getting something after all: a $96,000-a-year job with the water district.

In 1999, two candidates for school board in Valley Center, near Escondido, deadlocked at 1,722 votes each. The deadlock amused both of them considering that they ran on a slate.

“We’re friends, and you’re at the point that you don’t want to say you’d like to win, but you don’t want to say you’d like to lose,” one candidate told a reporter.

In the 1980s and 1990s, coin tosses or a name pulled out of a hat decided the tie races in Valley Center and races in Borrego Springs, Ramona and Jacumba.

Not every tie vote needs a coin, card or hat.

In 1985, a San Ysidro school board recall vote resulted in a tie vote for not one but two incumbents: 407 votes for a recall to 407 votes against.

According to the U-T, the recall began when two board members supported a third, “despite critics’ charges that the 26-year-old accountant secretly lived in Bonita with his wife. [He] reportedly told board members he was only temporarily storing furniture there.”

A tie means that a measure fails. So the school board members weren’t recalled.

There’s no word on whether the furniture was.


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